Shame

I’m ashamed. I have been so negligent in posting to this blog and the reality is, my life is a Christian is so much more important to me than poetry or photography–the subject of my other two blogs.

But then, I think about a book I read over 25 years ago by John Bradshaw, a popular self-help guru at the time, Healing the Shame That Binds You, in which the author describes the toxicity of shame because it focuses on self image, the perception of our failure. As Christians, we have the ability to take our guilt to Jesus and accept his forgiveness, his loving compassion.

I suffer from the spiritually deadly disease of perfectionism and I can’t tell you how often I turn in my prayer to the image of the parable of the Prodigal Son and soak in the unconditional love of God for us. I say disease because, like shame, perfectionism focuses on self not love of God and others.

So I offer, once again, a copy of Rembrandt’s painting of the Prodigal Son, and image I like to visualize when I’m turning inward instead of upward.

 

Image: Rembrandt The artist represented the abundance of parental love by painting one male hand and one female hand.

Image: Rembrandt–Detail
The artist represented the abundance of parental love by painting one male hand and one female hand.

Image: Rembrandt's Prodigal Son Wikipedia Commons

Image: Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son
Wikipedia Commons

As for my shame in not posting for a while, I will do what Bradshaw suggests: let go, do what you have to do to change (or to accept the lack of time and inspiration it takes to blog) and move on! Have a blessed week.

 

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The Prodigal Father

Yes, you’re reading it correctly: the PRODIGAL Father. Sure, the son was prodigal in his wasting of his inheritance on vanity, but check out this definition of prodigal:

adjective: marked by rash extravagance

And so it is with the Father’s extravagant love that could be judged by some as rash. His loving kindness is poured out on us, no matter how low we go. Isn’t it wonderful? Forgiveness abounds.

Image: Rembrandt The artist represented the abundance of parental love by painting one male hand and one female hand.

Image: Rembrandt
The artist represented the abundance of God’s parental love by painting one male hand and one female hand.

The “Perfect” Son

Image: Rembrandt's Prodigal Son Wikipedia Commons

Image: Rembrandt’s Prodigal Son
Wikipedia Commons

Let’s continue reflecting on the wonderful story Jesus told of the Father’s immense love for us. Trying to share the conferences I heard on the parable of the Prodigal Son became a daunting task that stalled me, so I’ll just take a few moments to share my own thoughts about the elder son–the son who stayed faithful, who stayed home with his father and did all he could to do what he believed  the father expected of him. I suspect that, if you are visiting this blog, you may be among those who still remain (or, like me, who have returned) home.

What Jesus is asking us to do is to stand back and take a look at ourselves…an objective look. The elder son remained with the father and worked hard–but look what happened when the younger brother returned home–that kid who had demanded his inheritance up front only to go and waste it on dissolute living. Big Bro was really ticked off. No, more than that, he allowed resentment to consume him.

Doesn’t this make you wonder why he bothered to hang around. I suspect it was because he wanted to get something from it. He expected a return on his investment and just couldn’t come to understand that the love of the Father is not based on what we do to earn it, but rather is a gratuitous gift, overflowing with love. Dipping into the Old Testament, I’ve encountered how the loving kindness of God shows up, again and again, in spite of the total infidelity of the Hebrew people, the people he chose for himself. So it is with us.

There are other sins, too, that those who are “good” sons, or “good” Christians may be guilty of–gossip, judgmentalism, pettiness, ignoring the needs of others, perfectionism…it’s darn hard to measure up to those demands of the Beatitudes. Yet, they too need the Father’s forgiveness.

Jesus doesn’t really tell us the rest of the story. Did the elder son catch on and come inside and join in the celebration? I wonder. He would surely be missing out on the Father’s abundant love if he stayed outside and moped.

Note: In Rembrandt’s portrayal of the parable, check out the elder son. He’s the one standing way in the back, in the shadows. The artist really had a deep understanding of Jesus’ story, didn’t he.

 

“The New Deal”–Jesus’s, That Is

 

Image: outoftheoverflow.com

Image: outoftheoverflow.com

The readings I’ve been doing on my own, and some of those I’ve heard in church during this Lenten season, have given me cause to compare and contrast the new and the old covenants.

The Old Covenant between God and Abraham, then codified with Moses and the whole people Of Israel, was based on the law–the Ten Commandments and all 613 legislative details that followed. It was a sort of tit-for-tat deal–“You observe these and I will be with you. You are my people and I am your God.” It’s not news to us that this didn’t work out well for either side. As much as God, through the prophets, admonished and promised, threatened and taught, the people just couldn’t pull off their side of the bargain. Human weakness and temptation were just too much for them and try as they might, they fell flat on their faces, over and over again.

So Jesus came to earth. I believe it was to check things out and find out where the flaw lay in the Father’s creation. To this end, he allowed himself to experience everything we experience–but Jesus never let temptation get the best of him. He never sinned.

I can imagine in those amazing dialogues with the Father–on mountaintops or in the wilderness–he shared what it was like to be human, how strong the urge to disobey those commandments could be. Talking it over with the Father, merciful and loving, they must have come to the understanding that the old law was beyond humankind’s ability and maybe it was time to try something else. And so they started all over again. Perhaps Jesus told the Father that, if they were not going to give up on creation,  something was needed to provide a mechanism for forgiveness.

Did he then offer himself as the solution? Did he explain to the Father what it was like down here in the valley of tears to be confronted with loss, rejection, fear, persecution, physical and mental illness, temptation and failure? Did he then say, “I’ll take it all on myself. I’ll show them how much we love them by going through the worst kind of suffering and death we can think of so they won’t feel so alone and helpless. We can give them a way out–the gift of loving forgiveness. And let’s summarize all those rules into two simple ones: love of God and love of neighbor.”

Is that what brought us to the first Holy Week, the beginning of which we observe today? May our subdued celebration of the Passion and Death of Jesus lead us to experience God’s forgiveness of our weakness, our willingness to forgive others and our gratitude for the immense love our Savior gives to us each moment of each day. And may that celebration burst out in Joy a week from today as we commemorate his glorious resurrection.

Are you doing anything special to observe Holy Week?

donkpreston

Forgive Them, Father–They Just Don’t Understand

Image: Amanda Krill

Image: Amanda Krill

I suppose I could do an entire post just listing the reasons I have been unable to write for however many days, but let’s just leave it at this: there are times when life gets in the way and the needs of those we love take precedence to everything else.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness. My novel, The Sin of His Father, just released last week, bears the subtitle The Healing Power of Forgiveness. Coincidently, I have had to come face-to-face with the importance of forgiveness in my own life. Oh, not even close to the level of forgiveness demanded of the novel’s protagonist—but when the need to forgive another smacks us in the face, it can feel enormous.

The need to let go of rancor that simmers just below the surface came to my attention when someone who knows and loves both of us well, shared a seemingly insignificant fact about the person who is the source of my anger. This insight helped me understand better the behavior that causes me to react and changed my emotional response from a feeling of resentment to one of compassion.

I wonder if Jesus, in his prayer to his Father, had a clear grasp of the dynamics behind the Jewish leaders’ fear–a fear that drove them to the extreme of trying to destroy him? Of course he did.

I wonder what would happen if politicians made an effort to understand the motivating force behind one another’s point of view. Is it possible that maybe something would get done for the betterment of their (our) country as a whole, rather than for personal aggrandizement?

And if each of us took the time to talk to those with whom we have disagreements—I wonder if walls would fall down, revealing the needs and vulnerabilities of another, inviting us to acceptance and forgiveness.

When we say “God is Love,” aren’t we admitting that God is forgiveness, too? This is not the easiest part of loving, is it? However, who said love was easy?

Introducing: The Sin of His Father

“Your father didn’t leave us, Mattie. I was raped.”

These words, uttered by his mother on her deathbed, propelled Matt Maxwell into the fear that he could become like this man he never knew.

Abandoning the woman he loved, his closest friend, and a lifestyle that suited him well, Matt made choices that opened him to an unlikely friendship and a new relationship with the God of his youth. However, the terrible secret he harbored eventually took him down a path of self-destruction and alcoholism.

What would it take to embrace his truth, accept himself and his past, and discover peace in the power of forgiveness and love?

Available in Print and Kindle Editions–Click on Cover below.

BookCoverImage

God–a Lovelorn Teen? God and the Prophets

Photo: dreamstime.com

Photo: dreamstime.com

Most of us, I bet, as teenagers, or even as adults, have had the experience of a lost love. Someone in whom we’ve invested an overdraft of our emotional reserve, of whom  we just couldn’t let go. We imagined the rekindling of that romance, the fulfillment of our deepest wants. And so it is with God.

In June, I made up my mind to study the Bible again with a beginner’s mind. (Beginner’s mind is a Buddhist concept that leaves one open to learning new things, perhaps things we think we already know. It’s one of the more helpful things I learned in my spiritual wanderings. It’s a healthy mindset.)

And so, I decided to read a Psalm a day, a Chapter or so from the prophets, beginning with Isaiah, a short section from the Gospels and the Epistles. The experience, along with the compelling power of the Holy Spirit, brought me “Home” again.

Today, I want to focus on the prophets. I’ve made it up to Hosea but it hasn’t been too easy. Poor God! His chosen people were (are) so stubborn and dense.

Over and over, I read of God’s warnings, threats of gloom and doom, exile, destruction–really grim things–but his people just didn’t get it. It was dreary at times, but then, all of a sudden, God, the passionate Lover, breaks through with his proclamation of crazy love, forgiveness, pity, pleading for his people to come back to him. God never gave up. He just waited and hoped.

His chosen ones  vacillated. When things got really tough, they came grovelling back. They left their idols, their “harlotry” behind and returned to the Lord. But then, when they felt satiated and secure, off they would go in search of whatever it was that attracted them to false gods. So then God would go back into a waiting, threatening, chastising mode. But, bottom line, God never quit trying, never gave up on his beloved.

This has helped me to realize that God’s love for me, for all of us, is just like his love for his chosen people of old. He is always there waiting, forgiving, welcoming–inviting us to celebrate his unending, unfaltering love.

In their affliction, they  shall look for me;

“Come, let us return to the LOrd,

For it is he who has rent, but he will heal us;

He has struck us, but he will bind our wounds…

He will come to us like the rain,

like spring rain that waters the earth.

Hosea 6: 1, 3

Image: Luke15.org

Image: Luke15.org